From the Vault: Pavement, One of The Greatest Bands of the 90’s



Pat Connell

Pavement posing for a publicity photo


Back in the 1990’s, there existed a still-relatively-unknown band called Pavement, fronted by main songwriter Stephen Malkmus. They reached critical acclaim with their first two albums, 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted and 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but they never had commercial success. With their highest charting single, “Cut Your Hair,” not breaking the Top 40, Pavement is not even considered a one-hit-wonder. That does not discredit them as talented muscians and — especially when speaking of Malkmus’ compositions — songwriters and lyricists.

Pavement has a way of presenting its audience with odd, out-of-key chords; strange chord progressions; and peculiar timings in their songs while still sounding quite well. “Here“, a song off of their debut album that has the same chord structure as “Yellow” by Coldplay, and “Cut Your Hair”, their aforementioned song, both are idiosyncratic in that they in a four-four time, but the verses’ harmony is only three measures long where most pop songs would normally have them be four long. That makes it sound right tonally, but rythmically, it sounds of a subtle lack of closure. There are not many moments of disharmony on their debut album— aside from “Our Singer,” the closing track — but they are quite apparent in subsequent releases, like “We Dance,” off of Wowee Zowee, Platform Blues” on Terror Twilight, and “Transport Is Arranged,” off of Brighten the Corners.

Pavement also utilizes some quaint imagery in their lyrics to match their at-times-abstract music. For example, in “Shady Lane” they sing, “You’ve been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life.” “Summer Babe (Winter Version)” starts off by saying “I saw your girlfriend and she was eating her fingers like they’re just another meal.” These words are different than most regular artists would have, making them distinguished, but the band also has another common idea prevelent throughout their discography. They enjoy referring to — and often poke fun at — other musicians and bands in their songs. In “Range Life,” off of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, they sing about going on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins. They are called “nature’s kids, but they don’t have no function.” Likewise in the song “Stereo” on Brighten the Corners, they sing about Geddy Lee of Rush.  They sing about how his voice and ask if he talks with the same high voice that he sings with, and to relieve any tension between the bands, one member says “I know him and he does.”

Pavement is one of the better bands of the 90’s and could have made it big, but unlike some of their contemporaries, they did not release any infamous,”sell-out” album to put them on top. What is better about Pavement, though, is that they have produced a greater body of collective work than most other 90s artists. They know how to write songs so that each one has its own distinction and is recognisable. They like to use instruments that would be considered exotic to a standard rock band, too, like cellos and pedal guitars. There should not be any reason why anyone would not like the band t because, throughout their career, they have made enough songs that touch upon and dabble in all genres. Few bands are as great as Pavement, but too many get more recognition and praise from the public than what they deserve. Whereas most artists get more credit than they deserve, Pavement deserve much more credit than they get.